Everyone illustrated in Woman & Man and Ms. Monopoly is white, and the problems described in the games are disproportionately those affecting young professionals in monogamous, heterosexual relationships. The chance cards in Ms. Monopoly include such universal opportunities for women as getting 100,000 subscribers for your podcast, or winning a baseball championship because you threw “like a girl.”
A version of Ms. Monopoly that takes into consideration the pay gap between, say women from different racial backgrounds, would be far more complicated, and also create additional roles to choose. Maybe the game would accomplish its goal better if we could add in differences for queer and transgender women, and for the class upbringing of the player. Maybe specific sets of rules by age? Hair color? The game would get ever more accurate, and harder to play.
Playing this kind of political board game does make an individual system — like, say, underrepresentation of women entrepreneurs — more digestible. That’s why The Landlord’s Game, the original version of Monopoly, was designed to teach people about a single, specific policy: socialist economist Henry George’s proposed land tax. A game flattens the world into cardboard — easier to understand, but simplified.
Ms. Monopoly has a point: Women are at a disadvantage in entrepreneurial and inventive settings. But the game of Monopoly’s success itself reinforces the systems that make that inequality possible: Though Charles Darrow is credited as the creator of Monopoly, the patent for the game was stolen from Elizabeth Magie, the inventor of The Landlord’s Game.
Rather than model the discrimination faced by women in the workplace or investigate what might improve working conditions, Ms. Monopoly has created a surface-level fantasy world where women succeed merely by virtue of being women, and where all players are incentivized to be women in order to win. (There are a few cards that disproportionately reward men, including one where the player attends a women’s rally. It’s not enough to outweigh the benefits of playing as a woman.)
Who wins in that world? Darrow, a cheater in the game of the American market, was the one ultimately rewarded by the rules.
My two friends playing as women ended our first game of Ms. Monopoly with $4140 and $4100, only a $40 difference between them. I, the lone man, finished with $2645 — about $1500 behind. Games teach you how to respond to them, nestling values in the guise of rules and conditions for victory. In this case, the lesson I learned was “lie about your identity for personal gain.”